There is a slaughter being waged in my backyard.
Every winter, the snow’s bluster and cold have me dreaming of the fantasy garden I’ll plant in the coming Spring; the new season always seems to come far too late. Yet somehow when it does, it still commands patience, and nervous, trembling anticipation of what’s ahead. Each year, there is a vicious war waged in my backyard: will my beautiful, precious garden flourish, or will it succumb to the scourge of my annual enemies? And each year I meet with my generals (and my dog) to try to optimize for victory. They always suggest war without quarter, martialing Roundup, Feed and Weed, Rototilling and secret traps. It’s reminiscent of Medieval times when the Spring and Summer were reserved for battle.
Spring starts slowly in Vermont, but once the ground has warmed up and a stronger sun starts to rise, my enemies get a tenacious grip and begin flanking assaults. The runner-up terrorist goes to weeds, weeds, and more weeds. But although the upkeep is endless, I know in my heart that with sweat, a sharp hoe, and a nightcap or two, I have it in me to prevail. The true source of dread – the plague of my each and every cauchemar – is a sweaty, smelly, meaty, disgusting, woolly little 9-pound scamp. It’s what we call the woodchuck or, more affectionately, whistlepig.
Colonel Whistlepig and his legions are the Taliban of my sacred vegetable patch: sneaky, vicious, relentless, heartless, guileless. The Colonel leaves a trail of remains as a reminder that he’s come and gone, laying waste without an ounce of concern for the civilized, humble gardener whose turf and dignity have been plundered. Every day they all burrow around, make dens and tunnels, and wildly fornicate – there’s a whole new army every 32 days. A whole new army with the same mission.
Ever vigilant, they are constantly scouting on their little meaty hind legs, taking stock of all the good eats beginning to grow that might satisfy their drooling desire… their infanticide. Armed with razor sharp incisors and a no-holds-barred digestive system, they are ever ready to produce terror on the plant world, and on mine. I frequently catch one of them looking down at me defiantly from some ledge, as if to say “enjoy the show” before he or she darts frantically from plant top to plant top, destroying my vegetables, lettuces, lily tops, and Hosta blossoms, and whatever else lies in the way. I look on as the miracles of life, growth, and what little sanity I’ve clung to all evaporate before my eyes.
This year my chief of staff, chief operating officer and chief medical officer (all the same person, but I digress) ordered the Middlebury Vermont Seed Tarp. It’s laid down on top of a freshly rototilled and raked out garden plot — just water, one stop grow, and no weeds. But relief still felt too foreign to be real; this small victory only reminded me of the movie “Field of Dreams,” formerly one of my favorites. All I could think of was how they must have held a furry little happy hour screening and felt inspired, as just as in the film, “they will come.”
In a last effort to thwart a wholesale slaughter, we brought out our reserves from the wings: I’m talking about Brent and Bill, the local woodchuck gunslingers of B&B Wildlife Control. The body count was astronomical, but they were still too late; the pillage had already taken place. All the garden civilians publicly beheaded…. no survivors, only compost. Another year, another war fought and lost.
I am only buoyed by Winston C.: “never, never, ever give up”. I have to believe there’s hope.